ISIS’s Atrocities In The Middle East Recall Viet Cong’s 1971 Duc Duc Massacre


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Were the brutal terror tactics unleashed by the North Vietnamese Communists and their Viet Cong allies during the Vietnam War a precursor to the tactics used today by the Islamic State in the Middle East?

A number of Vietnam veterans think so, and they’ve been waging a little-known campaign to get the U.S. government to recognize a March 29, 1971, atrocity committed by the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerrillas when they burned down 800 village homes, many with the inhabitants huddling inside. At least 250 men, women and children were wounded or killed.

The mass incineration of the village of Duc Duc was never recognized as a war crime like the My Lai massacre in which U.S. Army Lt. William Calley was convicted of killing 22 Vietnamese villagers. Calley’s life sentence was announced the same day the communists attacked Duc Duc.

“I thought Duc Duc represented My Lai. Everything was so one-sided in the media,” recalled former Marine Lance Cpl. Jack Cunningham to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group. He lived with the people of Duc Duc as part of the Combined Action Program, which was dubbed “the Peace Corps with Rifles.”

Cunningham has led a decades-long campaign for official recognition of the Duc Duc atrocity and has compiled a series of graphic, first-hand websites that portray life before and after the massacre.

The fires that burned the Duc Duc homes were so bright on the night of the attack, helicopter pilots 20 miles away in the city of Danang could see the flames.

“You can see there’s a big empty space where the houses had been. They were cardboard and tin houses. We called them hooches. They were gone. Just burned,” Cunningham said.

The Duc Duc village was a government-sponsored hamlet that housed refugees who had fled Viet Cong-held areas.

“There was no reason for them to set fire to the village,” recalled Marine Sgt. Dennis Sherman, who was stationed near Duc Duc.

“There was no military significance to the site. It was only refugees. But it was a way to ‘convince’ people to move back to their area. The message was: ‘See, the government can’t protect you from us,’” Sherman said. “The Viet Cong hated them. The Viet Cong’s attitude was ‘it’s us or you’re dead,’” he said.

“And that’s the way ISIS is today,” former Marine Lance Cpl. Richard Thomas told TheDCNF. Thomas was stationed three miles away from Duc Duc.

Both the American media and anti-war activists, however, largely ignored communist atrocities and even praised the communists as good people.

The late anti-war activist Tom Hayden wrote in the Los Angeles Times in January 2013 that “far from being faceless fanatics, the Vietnamese I met struck me as patriotic.”

But the Vietnam vets continue to raise their politically incorrect message that the U.S. government should regard the burning of Duc Duc as an atrocity.

Many of the G.I.s see a similarity to the tactics used by ISIS, whose guerrillas have beheaded, burned alive and hacked to death civilians who don’t support them.

“The Viet Cong would hack people to death with machetes and bayonets. It’s kind of like the way ISIS is doing right now,” said Thomas.

“The Viet Cong were known for going into a village, grabbing somebody’s parents, shooting one in the head and saying, ‘if you want mom alive, cooperate with us,’” recalled Sherman. “That’s how they operated.”

On the night of March 29, 1971, between 1,500 to 2,400 North Vietnamese Army regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas launched their assault on Duc Duc and on the nearby military base called the Fifth Marine Combat Base.

The attackers poured through two perimeters and overwhelmed the defenders — 150 ill-trained South Vietnamese soldiers and 11 American soldiers.

“There were probably 150 people against a minimum of 1,500 enemy. We were greatly outnumbered,” recalled Sherman who was on the base when the attack started and later received a Bronze Star for bravery.

With the troops preoccupied, the Vietnamese communists turned their attention to the defenseless people of Duc Duc. When the fires ebbed, a Viet Cong flag flew on top of one standing building.

The village was destroyed and never rebuilt. The survivors retreated further toward U.S. lines, but their whereabouts after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 are largely unknown.

Noted Vietnam historian Robert Turner told TheDCNF that for the Viet Cong, “brutality was a key to their strategy. They made no distinction between combatants and noncombatants.” The terror tactics were dictated by the North Vietnamese Communist Party, which controlled the Viet Cong.

“Most of the brutality that I saw was because of official party policy, that is they were doing something because this is something the party told them to do,” said Turner, who also served in Vietnam. He is now a distinguished fellow at the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Descriptions of ISIS operations against civilians in Iraq and Syria often recall the communist atrocity in Duc Duc.

“Survivors describe an ISIS killing rampage whose main objective was apparently to terrorize local residents,” wrote Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, of the June 20, 2015, assault on the Syrian City of Kobani. “By all accounts, this was a planned attack on the civilian population of this area.”

That narrative differs from actress Jane Fonda’s comments, who in a famous 1972 Radio Hanoi broadcast while the war was in progress, lavished praise on communist women fighters who sought to kill American pilots.

“I cherish the memory of the blushing militia girls on the roof of their factory, encouraging one of their sisters as she sang a song praising the blue sky of Vietnam — these women, who are so gentle and poetic, whose voices are so beautiful, but who, when American planes are bombing their city, become such good fighters,” Fonda said.

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